Former Azerbaijani Health Minister Ali Insanov, 70, was ordered held in custody for three months on October 11, just nine days before the end of an 11-year prison term handed down to him in 2007 after a conviction on charges of bribery, embezzlement and economic crimes to which he pleaded not guilty.
Insanov, who in the early 1990s was a founding member of the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party, now faces a further trial on charges of possession of psychotropic drugs and resisting a prison officer, charges which he says are politically motivated and intended to preclude his release. He declined to attend the court hearing at which he was formally ordered held, declaring that he had "no desire to participate in this farce."
Insanov's lawyer, Togrul Babayev, and several Azerbaijani opposition politicians have also denounced the new charges as implausible, unsubstantiated, and unfair.
Babayev said that it was ridiculous to claim that a man of Insanov's age could have physically resisted a younger and stronger prison official. Babayev also asked rhetorically why a qualified medic should have wanted to experiment with drugs.
Opposition Musavat Party Deputy Chairman Tofiq Yaqublu, who served time in the same prison as Insanov, characterized Insanov's lifestyle as "healthy" and recalled that he had helped to provide medical treatment to inmates. "Clearly someone is afraid of his release," Yaqublu concluded.
Insanov was one of a group of senior Azerbaijani officials arrested on the eve of the October 2005 parliamentary elections on suspicion of plotting a coup d'etat. That charge against Insanov was subsequently dropped, but he went on trial in early 2007 on charges of illegally privatizing medical facilities, bribery, and abuse of his official position. Insanov, who pleaded not guilty, was convicted and sentenced to 11 years in prison.
Six years later, in March 2013, the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights ruled that Insanov had been denied the right to a fair trial and that he had been held in inhumane and demeaning conditions in various penitentiaries. The court ruled that the Azerbaijani authorities should pay Insanov 10,000 euros ($11,000) in compensation.
The Azerbaijani government ignored that ruling, however, whereupon Insanov appealed to the Council of Ministers of the Council of Europe. Two months later, Azerbaijan's Supreme Court annulled its own rejection of Insanov's appeal against his prison term and ordered a repeat hearing by the Baku Appeals Court, which in February 2014 upheld the original sentence.
In the course of that hearing, during which Insanov was forced to sit in a soundproof glass box in the courtroom, he issued a statement cursing his former support for President Ilham Aliyev and denouncing the government. At his original trial, he had accused Aliyev of appropriating money from the sale of Azerbaijan's Caspian oil and of establishing a "military-political regime."
Azerbaijani human rights activists consider him a political prisoner.